Dear Dr. Fox:

My 17-year-old West Highland terrier mix has an odd problem, and my vet does not know what causes it.

As she is about to go out, as soon as she gets to the door, she backs up a bit and shakes her head from side to side. Sometimes her body shakes, too. But when she is indoors at night, she has no problems.

The vet says she has no eye issues. She does have arthritis in her hips. Her appetite is good.

Last night about 2:30 a.m., I heard her scratching a wart-like thing on her leg. When I went to put some medicine on it, she jumped up from her bed and went down the hall to the back door to go out. I let her out, and she had no shaking problems. But when she came back in, she paced back and forth between the bedroom and back door for an hour.

She did not have the shakes this morning. She ate a healthy amount of food, then laid down on her bed, getting up only for toilet or water.

I have medication for her warts and pain pills for her arthritis.

B.M., Camp Springs

DF: In part because dogs and cats enjoy longer lives than in the past, we see more of them with age-related neurological and cognitive problems, including dementia.

Try giving your dog up to two tablespoons of coconut oil, a few drops of fish oil (working up to a tablespoon) and one human multivitamin and multimineral supplement mixed in with her food per day. Discuss with your veterinarian supplements such as Resveratrol, Effac (esterified fatty acid complex), SAMe and choline, and also the potential benefits of various herbs such as ginkgo biloba, gotu kola and Asian ginseng.

A few drops of essential oil of lavender on a bandanna around her neck might help calm her; anxiety is a sign of canine dementia. Alternatively, valerian or Xanax should be discussed with your veterinarian. Selegiline can also be beneficial for old dogs, but it needs careful monitoring.

homesick cat

Dear Dr. Fox:

We recently moved our house and belongings a quarter-mile away from where we were before. Henry, our black 8-year-old cat, keeps crossing a busy road to return to his old home.

We’ve kept him inside the past several weeks, but this is not ideal. He often wakes up at 4 or 5 a.m. and starts yowling, either for food or to use the outdoor facilities. (He has always used a litter box as a last resort.)

A neighbor loaned us a harness so I could let him out on our back patio and acclimate to his new surroundings. He slipped out of it, but I think this has potential if I can fasten it better without him strangling.

Any ideas? He spent only 20 to 30 percent of his time outdoors at the old house.

R.B., Columbia

DF: Many cats do what yours is doing: returning to the former home for reasons best known to cats. Some have journeyed incredible distances.

I applaud you for trying a cat harness, but it must be fitted properly to prevent escape. Because he enjoys the outdoors, a cat house or gazebo fitted with a covered litter box and shelter, plus a tree branch or cat gym to climb and laze on, might satisfy his outdoor cravings.

Consider adopting a healthy, easygoing cat of his approximate age and size, perhaps a spayed female rather than a neutered male. Such companionship might turn him into a stay-at-home cat. The new cat should, of course, be strictly an indoor cat, unless you have an outdoor enclosure for both of them.

diet and epilepsy

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 7-year-old Lhasa Apso, M.C. Fraggle, has had seizures since he was 2. They happened at least once a month, though often more frequently. Many were dreadful and lasted an hour or more, leaving him whimpering and unable to walk.

My veterinarian finally prescribed phenobarbital, despite the risk of side effects, because his quality of life was so bad. One day M.C. Fraggle had a fever of 106 degrees. I took him to the emergency clinic. Tests showed a low white blood cell count, allowing an infection to run rampant. The most logical diagnosis was lymphoma.

I was despondent. On our way out of the clinic, the doctor stopped us and suggested that I discontinue the phenobarbital. She’d been hitting the books and discovered that sometimes phenobarbital impairs the production of white blood cells. Within a week, his white blood cells were back to normal.

Three weeks later, the seizures returned. At this point, our doctor said to try putting our dog on a grain-free diet. Within a month, the seizures became shorter, milder and more rare. Nine months later, they stopped, and he hasn’t had one since March.

I feed him a diet of one part ground turkey mixed with two parts assorted canned vegetables, including pumpkin, carrots and beets. When I’m done cooking it, I mix in the water because I know it’s where all the vitamins and minerals end up. I add fish oil, CoQ-10, vitamin D and SpiruGreen.

G.F., Derwood

DF: Your letter is one of the stars that helps shine a light on a long-ignored diet-related connection with an all-too-common canine affliction: epilepsy.

Genetics can also play a role. There are other reasons dogs develop seizures, from adverse vaccine reaction to calcium deficiency and brain infection.

Spend time in a specialty pet store and check out the increasing number of grain-free canned and dry dog foods sold. It seems that some pet food manufacturers are aware of the problems some dogs and cats face consuming grains and cheap protein substitutes such as soy.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2012 United Feature Syndicate